Saturday, November 16, 2013

Internet Wading: Experiencing history

Last month, I wrote about some things the Internet taught me about history. I said that I hoped I’d remember to save links to such things, and I did. Here are a few more.

First up, let’s go WAY back, all the way to Ancient Rome. The video above is a virtual tour of Rome in 320 CE. It’s part of a project called Rome Reborn, with an ultimate goal of a virtual world that people can interact with and explore. This is only the beginning fo such virtual reconstructions, I think, and it’s something that could radically change how people encounter history.

For now, though, we use more traditional means to visit history, but even there technology sometimes plays a role. Last month, I posted a link to some colourised photos mainly from the USA’s Civil War. I then ran across another site with many more colourised photos (a couple of which were at the other link). I said last month that “I thought the re-touched photos made the people in the war much more real than they’d seemed before,” and I also said, “For me, it really did bring history alive.” That’s true with these photos, too, but some of them also looked a bit like historical re-enactments, or scenes from a movie about the events. Can history be made too real?

Since then, I ran across more modern photos that were posted as, “30 Of The Most Powerful Images Ever” (WARNING: Some of the images are distressing). These photos are a record of our history, and many of them we know very well. Do we view them differently than the colourised photos versions I’ve linked to, or even to the original black and white photos versions?

Many of us experience unfolding history through pop culture as much as the news—sometimes more so. Salon took a look at Saturday Night Live and Richard Pryor: The untold story behind SNL’s edgiest sketch ever”. They said:
“Conventional wisdom held that it would be ludicrous to expect the show’s target audience to sit at home watching TV at eleven thirty on a Saturday night. [SNL creator Lorne] Michaels knew different. The audience he was after had grown up watching TV. Too much TV. It was their collective point of reference, the communal campfire around which they all gathered in the new global village. They lived and breathed TV with an ironic self-awareness that Michaels and his team used to frame the jokes within the Big Joke that would define the show and leave most Americans born before 1948 muttering to themselves and scratching their heads.”
I think that was true of television then, and it’s also true of the Internet now. But if young people experience unfolding history through the Internet, will it be through sites like I’ve found, or will it be through a list of animated GIFs on BuzzFeed?

Still, even BuzzFeed has its place. Today they published “10 Beautiful Photos Of Older People Looking At Younger Reflections Of Themselves In The Mirror”, which combines current reality and recreated history in BuzzFeed’s standard list format. The point of the post was that the way people perceive themselves in the present is often their memory of the way they looked in the past. It also hints at how we perceive history in general.

History continues to unfold, and while we can influence that, we can’t stop it. However, the way we remember things is entirely up to us. So, too, is how we perceive history, and that clearly presents a lot of options. Some of those options may be problematic, but overall I think that if people learn history at all, it’s a good thing. We have to know where we’ve been to understand where we’re going, after all, and there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be options to experience history in the way that speaks best to us.

Just as long as we DO remember.


rogerogreen said...

I think B&W allows people tpo think it happened a LONG time ago, and we're not like that anymore. Which, of course, is untrue.j

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

I think you're right. And, I suppose it makes it easier to romanticise the past. Historians can talk about how awful the warfare of the Civil War or World War One were, but with those poor quality black and white photos, well, it doesn't look all that bad. Restored and coloured versions can change that perception. If so, maybe it can help people see we ARE still like that.